Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Offside at a charge down.

An argument arose as follows in a recent Premiership game. An opposing player kicks the ball. This was charged down by a home player. A second home player is several metres in front of the charge down and then picks up the ball. The referee blows for a penalty for offside.  
The argument was ' a player cannot be offside from a charge down' . The premiership ref gave two penalties in the match (one to each side) for the same offence.  
The question seems to be Law 11.3 that when a player kicks the ball this puts the home player onside but this seems then to be counteracted by the home player who charges down the ball putting the penalised player back offside? 


Hi Ed

Thanks for a very interesting question.
To help clarify this we need to take a step back and look at offside in open play. Let's look at the definition of offside.

At the start of a game all players are onside. As the match progresses players may find themselves in an offside position. Such players are then liable to be penalised until they become onside again.
In general play a player is offside if the player is in front of a team-mate who is carrying the ball, or in front of a team-mate who last played the ball.
Offside means that a player is temporarily out of the game. Such players are liable to be penalised if they take part in the game. 

In general play, a player can be put onside either by an action of a team-mate or by an action of an opponent. However, the offside player cannot be put onside if the offside player interferes with play; or moves forward, towards the ball, or fails to move 10 metres away from the place where the ball lands.

The second paragraph is the one we need to look at. "A player is offside if he is in front of a team-mate who last played the ball".  So when the charge-down occurs, any team mates of the charger, who were in front of him when he charged-down the ball, are offside and liable to penalty if they take part in the game.

There is a common misconception that a charge own put everyone onside, in fact it only puts all the kickers team onside.  Any of the kickers team who are in front of the kicker are offside at the time of the kick, but a charge-down puts them onside.

Think of it this way (and this is a simplistic rule of thumb), you can only be offside in open play if your team have the ball (or last played it) so when the ball is kicked, only that team can be offside, but when it is charged-down, it is now only the chargers team who can be offside.

So Ed, in your example, the referee was correct, the player in front of his team mate who charged down the kick was offside, and penalised for taking part in the game by playing the ball.

As usual, you need to read more than one piece of law to get the full picture.  In this case the definitions for Law 11, and Law 11.4(f).

Great question Ed, and thanks for posting it.
The Rugby Ref